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We are deeply grateful to our friends and colleagues for providing our members with beautiful, original content. If you enjoy this content please show your appreciation by leaving a comment and visiting the author’s site.
A launch party on St. Patrick’s Day 2019 was perfect timing to formally release my latest Irish historical novel, The Earl in Black Armor. But just as the earl could not have put on his heavy armor without many helping hands, I could not have published this book so successfully without similar and most generous help.
When I first started writing this book I expected it to be easy and quick, because I’d already studied much about the period and I was only covering a time span of seven years. But it turned out to be the most difficult and complex book I’ve written to date – and also the most rewarding accomplishment.
Even though I’m a former journalist and experienced writer, I knew this book needed many eyes on it to make sure it was right. After revising my manuscript numerous times, I used several beta readers, plus two editors, and two proofreaders who found the errors I could not see, and who pointed out the places where I needed more clarity.
I was able to test drive parts of our Amelia Indie Authors network. I had help finding exactly the right people to assist me at each stage: they supported and encouraged me when I felt frustrated and celebrated with me when the final product was in hand.
But that is just the beginning. My Amelia Indie Authors co-founder, author Andrea Patten “had an idea.” (If you get to know her, you’ll get used to hearing those words.)
Andrea’s vision and her natural capacity for building connections led to a remarkable opportunity for me: to lead a literary tour in Ireland in 2020 — exploring the sites traveled in my books and bring those scenes to life in real experiences for readers. What other authors have had such a tour? How about Maeve Binchy, and Frank McCourt? It is a tremendous honor to be able to join such renowned company.
The Earl in Black Armor is a story of conflicts: loyalty and betrayal, love and hate, courage and fear, honor and disgrace. Because of the work I put into it, and the help I have received, I have no conflicts at all about promoting this book with confidence. I know it can compete successfully — not only with other indie books in its genre but also with those traditionally published.
By Dr. J.
When you begin a new part of your life like writing, and it involves everything you know nothing about, what do you do?
If you are the former academician like me, you begin research. Learn about what you want to do. Find experts. Get guidance. Make a plan. Execute. Let’s see what happens when you follow directions. That’s what I did.
I attended a local writers’ group where I met Andrea Patten. When I talked with Andrea, I was days from completing a basic writing course with a New York editor for my writing genre erotica and erotic romance. The editor suggested I use three specific websites where I could share my work and become known in the writing world.
What did that mean?
First, it meant I’d be writing for readers. And second, I needed a website to link my stories to the other locations. How do you get all of this up and running? Andrea consulted with me to lay the ground floor of my author platform. That makes an author visible to the world
The first part of the plan was securing a website. Even though I knew it was essential to have a site, I did not understand how to go about creating it. A guide is vital. There are things they know I didn’t. Frankly, I didn’t even know what I didn’t know. Andrea broke down my needs in bite-size portions.
You can’t learn everything at once. For me, this was a world I had never lived in before, not writing, not IT, and not, social media. As a retired sex therapist, I had steered clear of all social media locations.
The first step in securing the website was to buy my website domain name-DrJAuthor, a combination of my pen name and my new identity. Given my writing content, it was helpful to learn that some hosting sites were better than others for my needs. I settled for HostGator and their built-in Weebly Website Template. Andrea had recommended Bluehost and WordPress, but I liked what I saw with HostGator. Notice, I didn’t follow directions.
After that, I created a picture that would be my visual recognition, my avatar, to be used on my website and other places. Once the website was in place, social media platforms were next. I learned that my name and my avatar needed to be consistent across all locations in the digital world.
That was my smooth start until it wasn’t smooth anymore. A year and a half into my website, HostGator did not renew its contract with Weebly and I lost a way to create my website content or access my old content. Luckily in a short time, I made many author friends talented in many areas. One such person is Mischa Eliot who in one weekend, rebuilt my site in a WordPress location. If only I had followed the directions of my author platform guru.
After the website, I tackled four social media sites. It seemed overwhelming. Check out my names. Facebook: DrJAuthor; Twitter: DoctorJAuthor; Instagram: drjauthor_; and Pinterest: drjauthor. I put those forward specifically to show that sometimes even with your best efforts, it doesn’t go as planned. What did you notice? The ideal would be to have the exact name match — then it is always easy for folks to find you. But the good news is, even if the names aren’t available, your avatar will identify you for readers.
If I had a full list of all the digital places I would end up, then I could have checked them. But sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know. If you are good at planning, you can secure all the names at the same time for the future. Notice I only listed the ones I started within my first year. I continue to grow my platform to other places.
There is so much to share. While Andrea Patten has been the spectacular guru on “all things start-up,” I attended Nancy Blanton’s workshop on Author Branding. Did you notice my purple essence? It’s always about learning more. My branding will be my next discussion.
Dr. J. arrived at her writing career after being a condom packer, sex educator, sex therapist, and finally a college professor of human sexuality. Using her vast knowledge and experience of sexuality and the mind, she continues her education efforts to integrate positive sexuality into the human experience through her stories. She writes romance and erotica. Living the island life, Dr. J. plays petanque, knits, and supports all the visual and performing arts of the area.
by Trienah Meyers
I don’t remember why, but I decided to try writing blog posts. Scattered I was. I had three streams of ideas but the first one, I think, was about my now-deceased dad and his penchant for wandering our home without his pants. This gave rise to a stream of being the “sandwich” between parent and child, all needing care. And I started writing blog posts about Torah portions because I had been writing them for presentation in temple at a time when we didn’t have a full-time rabbi. And of course, there was food. So clearly, scattered I was.
And then there was the election of Barack Obama to his first term as president. There was a veritable storm of commentary by the “losers” that their votes didn’t count. As a constitutional democracy geek, that was just not ok. So I wrote an op-ed piece which became a blog post. It inspired me to write randomly about all manner of things that had meaning to me.
These streams, sometimes active and sometimes defunct, either through laziness or life intrusions, stayed separate and random. This made it very hard to get people to follow my blog or be interested in my posts. This was dispiriting and sometimes made it difficult to go on writing unless something specifically inspired me greatly.
And then the magic happened. I reconnected with an old friend who, miraculously, was mentoring authors. She also happened to be a social media wizard. She shepherded me through creating a single website that contains all my blog posts and people can search the site for whatever they are most interested in.
Then, after learning how to create a Facebook “author” page (rather than a personal page) I learned how to connect my blog to my social media. Finally, I’m learning to use Twitter in a way that increases my presence – this is an ongoing process and my resistance has been a bit high.
The bottom line is that I went from a being good writer with no focus and no following to a blogger with a good website and pretty good social media skills, all thanks to Amelia Indie Authors.
I love indie authors and right now I’m annoyed. Aggravated. Disappointed and sad. I’m not sure what is worse — the feeling that I’ve wasted time and money on poor quality books or my current reluctance to pick up another book written by an indie author.
When Nancy, D-M and I decided to start Amelia Indie Authors, we had two goals in mind: to protect indies from over-priced industry predators and to help raise the quality of what indie authors are publishing. The reading I’ve done over the past few weeks was disheartening. And, with any luck, motivating. Hopefully, it will make me even more passionate about the success of other indie authors.
Like many other authors and publishers, we attend book festivals. We often trade titles with others in attendance. We no longer look at the festivals as a place to sell books, but, rather, an opportunity to connect with readers and other authors –and, of course, spend too much money on an armload of intriguing titles.
In the last ten days, I’ve read several of the books from two festivals just past. Two fiction, three non-fiction. Two for the little people in my life and three for the grown-ups. It was a nice cross-section but the quality made me very unhappy. Instead of writer’s block, these five works may have given me reader’s block.
I am not a snob. I make my share of mistakes. Besides, I love indie authors and, quite obviously, am invested in their success. But this is the sort of thing that makes the rest of the indie author community look bad. I could not finish the novel written entirely in the passive voice but got all the way through the two skinny non-fiction efforts that were half story and half filler. The major first-page typo in one of the next selections was almost enough to make me put it down. I’m glad I didn’t: while it’s got some spots that could benefit from an experienced editor, it’s a hella good story. And the last juvenile fiction is of a quality that could compete on any best seller list.
So, then, why so grumpy?
Because they were all good ideas. Some were great ideas. Their authors put in their own measure of blood, sweat, and tears to bring them into being. Unfortunately, some of these titles are likely not going to do anything but sit in a box in the author’s closet — until he or she gets tired of the business and gives them all away.
That doesn’t need to be. But how does a writer get the kind of feedback they need to write in a way that gives excellent voice to their wonderful ideas? And what’s their responsibility to do so? Part of it is to keep the implied promise to readers: that the book they hold in their hands represents the writer’s best work.
Writing a book — any book — takes guts. Authors face rejection each and every time they ask someone to give it a read. Eventually, their names are emblazoned on the front cover and if the release is poor quality, readers may never give them another chance.
An author willing to accept some hard feedback from strangers and take the time to work through multiple drafts can produce something anyone can be proud of — something of such high quality that could compete on a best seller list.
By Darryl Bollinger
I recently celebrated a birthday and received a wonderful card from dear friends. On the cover, with pictures of Dorothy and her three traveling companions in The Wizard of Oz, was the inscription It’s not WHERE you go . . . It’s WHO you meet along the way. How appropriate. All of us have the innate desire for tribal affiliation. While an anthropologist could do a far better job of explaining that longing, my simple perspective is from a writer’s view.
It is also a subject foremost in my mind these days, having relocated from Florida to North Carolina in the past year.
What a joy to spend a week surrounded by my writing tribe in beautiful Fernandina Beach, Florida for the Amelia Island Book Festival, a “family” reunion. We stayed with close friends who live there, one of whom is writer Dr. J Author. We reunited with long-time “relatives” including Andrea Patten, Nancy Blanton, Samuel Staley, my editor, Heather Whitaker, and discovered new ones, such as Amelia Indie Authors. The subject of a writing family led to this post. How does a writing tribe make one a better writer?
It is both comforting and selfish. It is relaxing to be in the company of people who love and accept you without reservation. A place where you can be yourself and lower the guardrails. Where it is okay to make a mistake, where you don’t have to constantly be on guard parsing your responses and comments. While writing may be the one common link, I am amazed at the diversity within the circle. There may be other common elements we sometimes share, but there are also areas within which we can respectfully disagree.
Selfishly, it is an opportunity to gather something of great value. I always leave feeling that I am leaving with more than I came with. My mind is racing to the point of insomnia, flooding my brain with thoughts and ideas triggered by lively conversation, helpful suggestions, and insightful commentary.
It is an opportunity to share and to give back to my tribal community. To help others benefit from my mistakes. A testing ground and sounding board for thoughts and dreams. To laugh together and share unique life experiences and the benefit of acquired knowledge and wisdom. Prompts, motivation, and challenges abound.
It is an opportunity to learn. The stimulation and mind-expanding are tangible. The writers in the family bring their significant others into the tent, with even more experiences to add to the stew. I never cease to walk away from these gatherings invigorated and challenged beyond my wildest expectations.
What do you look for? In the words of my motorcycle riding friends, If I have to explain, you wouldn’t understand. As I search for my tribe in my new residence, I am asked, “What are you looking for?” and I don’t know how to answer. It’s like asking what you look for in a friend. Certainly, fundamental traits such as honesty and loyalty are important, but it goes far beyond that. I think of close friends, several of whom were there and how on our initial meeting, we instantly bonded. Why? I can’t explain. If I could, I’d write a book on that subject and probably be set for life. All I can offer is to try on different groups and you’ll know when you find it.
I hear people say that writing is a solitary endeavor. While it may be true that the actual task of sitting down at a keyboard and putting words on paper is solitary, writing is very much a collaborative effort. Family is important. Find your tribe. It is a gratifying experience for the soul.
OK, OK… We know everyone’s Irish on St. Patrick’s day but we’ve got announcements that may extend that for you. First off, we hope that all local folks know about today’s party at the BookLoft featuring Nancy Blanton and her new release The Earl in Black Armor.
But besides that? Readers everywhere will want to know about Nancy’s latest adventure: she’s leading a trip to Ireland. An intimate group of about 16 adventurers will wind through many of the sites featured in Nancy’s delicious historical fiction — and she’ll be on board to talk to you about them.
Click the link below to get all the details.
One of the wonderful staples of our local book festival is the writers’ workshop that takes place on Friday at the community college. Traditionally, while there are classes about craft there have also been workshops about the publishing business. This year, the social media and marketing section was conducted by our very own Dr. J — writer of romance and erotica.
The evening’s gala took place at the Ritz-Carlton and included both a fund-raising auction and an author panel. The opportunity to name a character in a Diana Gabaldon novel was auctioned for a staggering amount of money before the assembled group got to hear the author panel answer questions posed by the honorary festival chair, Steve Berry.
Above: Authors Nancy Blanton and Andrea Patten meet Diana Gabaldon. The photobomber is Nancy’s sister Daphne. We wanted her up front!
Authors Ridley Pearson, Tess Gerritsen, Diana Gabaldon and Kristen Ashley answer questions posed by master of ceremonies Steve Berry.
The organizers of the Amelia Island Book Festival will have my head but there is so much going on at the festival it should probably be spread over a few more days. <ducking and hiding>
Thursday’s kick-off luncheon was an opportunity for authors to connect with one another over lunch and then listen to witty banter between bestselling authors David Baldacci and John Grisham.
Thursday's kick-off luncheon was an opportunity for authors to connect with one another over lunch -- and listen to David Baldacci and John Grisham. Click To Tweet
In addition to an appreciation for the authors’ very different work styles, attendees also came away with a copy of Grisham’s latest — The Reckoning.
After a short break, several authors went off to facilitate the Teen and Tween Scene and spend time with young readers and writers.
Others of us went off to co-host AIBF’s first #indieauthors reception held at The Book Loft on Centre Street. It was wonderful to see authors rekindle friendships from festivals past as well as to meet others they’ll try to spend some time with on this busy weekend.
In addition to food, friendship and music event hosts The Book Loft and Amelia Indie Authors put together an author-specific raffle. The results are on our Facebook page (please “like” it if you haven’t already done so) and repeated here.
* “Cover out” shelf placement at The Book Loft: Lauren Gilbert
* The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron went to Leah Ward-Lee
* Special placement (near checkout) for Mike Arsuaga
* Author platform review for Meredith Spencer
* Colette Willis has a copy of The Business of Being a Writer waiting for her at the bookstore
* Mike Sanders’ book will receive “creative placement” at The Book Loft
* Adair Sanders won a copy of Brand Yourself Royally and a review of author branding by Nancy Blanton.Author
* Laurie Robertson will be interviewed on the Amelia Indie Authors blog
* A 25-page pre-publication manuscript review went to Louise Jacques
* John Cagle’s titles will be part of a front window display!
Congratulations to all the prize winners. And all Amelia Island Book Festival indie authors are invited to tag their own pages in the comments so we can follow you.
See you Saturday at the book expo #aibf2019
This month the Amelia Island Book Festival welcomes Diana Gabaldon as one of the headlining, bestselling authors. She is already well known to many in our community. But for the rest of you, she’s the Arizona-based author of the Outlander Series—compelling historical fiction set initially in Scotland, featuring mystery, adventure, love and war, and even time travel between the 18th and 20th centuries.
More than 20 million copies of her books have sold worldwide, and the books—eight, so far—also have been adapted to an addicting television series on Starz. But that’s not all.
Dr. Gabaldon (pronounced GAA-bull-dohn—to rhyme with stone) holds three degrees in science: zoology, marine biology, and a Ph.D. in quantitative behavioral ecology. She also has an honorary degree as Doctor of Humane Letters. She worked as a university professor before turning to fiction writing. She and her husband have three adult children: two daughters and a son.
Now working on the ninth novel in the Outlander series, “Go Tell the Bees that I am Gone,” Diana graciously agreed to an email interview prior to her arrival in Nassau County. After the hundreds of interviews she’s done in the past year or so, many of which can easily be accessed online, I offered questions I thought would be of particular interest locally.
NB: Amelia Indie Authors is thrilled to welcome you for the annual Amelia Island Book Festival. It is a wonderful event surpassed, just only slightly, by our Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival. I’m sure readers are dying to know: how do you like your shrimp?
DG: Tempura fried. Or cocktail style, with horseradish-laced cocktail sauce.
NB: I noticed in your “Want to watch me write?” post on your website, you are accompanied by what appears to be a stalwart black dog. And there are two canines in your Thanksgiving 2017 photo. We are mostly dog lovers here. What is your daily writing routine, and what role do your dogs play in it?
DG: Unfortunately, one of my dogs died on New Year’s Day (complications resulting from a freak accident), so I have one standard dachshund right now, named Homer. The dog(s) mostly just sleep at my feet while I work (I work mostly in the middle of the night).
NB: Can you describe your writing routine for us?
DG: Well, it depends a bit on where I am in the book (it normally takes me two to three years to write one of the enormous historical novels). In the beginning, I don’t know much about the story, nor the specific background, so am doing a lot of research and thinking, writing relatively little—but writing every day; if you stop, the inertia builds up and it’s hard to get going again.
As I move further into the story and begin to know more, I write more. “Walking pace” through the main part of a novel is roughly two single-spaced pages (about a thousand words) a day; some days I make more, but if I get that much, I’m satisfied.
And then, as I get near the end, and know almost everything, I’m not having to do much research, but am writing madly; the story develops “critical mass,” sucks me in, (and people are calling up from New York, yelling about where is this story), and we enter what I call Final Frenzy. In this stage, I’m writing for as long as I can sit at the computer, maybe twelve to fifteen hours a day, and barely eating or sleeping. Luckily, this stage never lasts more than two or three months, or I’d die.
During the long middle portion of a book, though, my daily routine is more or less this:
Get up around 9 AM, exercise, take the dog for a walk, then go upstairs, answer email and do my daily list, to get a foothold on the day. Lunch with my husband, then an hour or so of actual work after lunch, followed by whatever business or errands need to be done, then gardening, dinner-shopping, dinner-making, dinner-eating…then a spell of family time; watching Perry Mason reruns, reading while husband watches football, whatever. My husband likes to go to bed early, so I tuck him in around 9 or 10 PM and go lie down on the couch with a book and the dog. If no one needs me (and now that the kids are all adults, the chances that someone will are substantially decreased, but it still happens now and then), I’ll fall asleep after a bit, and nap until about midnight. Then I wake up, stagger back upstairs with a Diet Coke and work until around 4:30 AM—that’s my prime writing time.
That said, I don’t think there is such a thing as a normal day in this profession. Every day the email brings me astonishing things—this morning I was invited to come to Ottawa in November and give a speech at the Canadian War Museum, to be a featured guest on a cruise, and to appear at three different conventions. This is in addition to all the email about books, contracts, and Extremely Odd business suggestions (like a line of scarves adorned with quotes from my books, to be made in India).
NB: From studying pinyon jays to writing comic books, and then to marine biology and scientific computation, you made the leap to your true calling. Do these past work experiences inform your writing, or do you ever find modern-day technical information invading your prose?
DG: Well….no. Why would it? So far as I know, everybody has an assortment of language styles that they use for different things; if your mother calls you on the phone, do you talk to her as though you were one of your ancient Irish characters? <grin>
As to experience—everything a writer sees, hears, thinks, does, is, and has been, informs your writing to some degree, but it’s seldom directly autobiographical.
NB: It takes a lot of courage to write and publish fiction—not to mention the amount of work—because the writing is much more personal. From the start of your fiction-writing career, what has required the greatest amount of courage? How about in your life?
DG: Just starting. Anything. Once you start, the most difficult thing is not giving up. But that’s basically how you do anything: start, and don’t stop.
NB: In a recent interview, you said some scene writing could be “like chiseling rocks out of a hill and then pushing them uphill with your nose.” I love this and have experienced the pain. What would you say is at the heart of this struggle? And, are there any remedies that help you through it?
DG: It’s just hard work. Parts of everything you do are hard. You just do it anyway. What does help is the knowledge that you’ve done this before. Hard as it may be now, you can probably do it again.
NB: The central characters of Outlander (Claire Beauchamp, an English WWII nurse, and James Frazer, a Scottish laird) and the conflicts around them are so intriguing they have hooked millions of readers. In a recent podcast, you were asked whether you’d been surprised by a character or had said ‘no’ to a character. With other authors in mind, would you talk a little about how such surprises can enrich a story? And perhaps about the role your surprise character Mr. Willoughby played to enrich Voyager?
DG: I have no idea which characters might have been surprises to any other authors, so can’t really answer that one. Don’t know why a character that was a surprise to the author should do anything different to a story than one who wasn’t, though.<grin>
As for Mr. Willoughby…he’s an outsider (a real outsider) in the culture he accidentally found himself in. The parallels to Claire, an outsider by token of her time-traveling, are pretty obvious, though, in this instance, she chose to come to a strange place. An outsider, though, always provides one or two specific things: an empathetic connection with the reader (who is also an outsider to the story), and thus a way of providing information about the strange circumstances in which they find themselves, and/or commentary on social situations/conditions (often it can be subtle (or not-so-subtle) commentary on contemporary conditions, as well as on the historical/fantastic conditions of the story).
NB: Your pirate villain Stephen Bonnet in Drums of Autumn rings some bells on Amelia Island, where local lore claims, “the island was so full of pirates that at one point, most of the 300 or so vessels anchored in the harbor were pirate galleons.” What might you suggest to an aspiring author who wants to weave one or two of these plunderers into a novel? After the initial trip to the library or local museum for general pirate information, how would you proceed?
DG: Well, look. There really isn’t a formula for doing this. You’d just let the information you’ve picked up inform what you write (i.e., you’d know what his ship might look like, how he (or she) might dress, how pirates of your specific time period conducted their affairs, etc.), choose a name for your pirate and turn him loose (unless you’re the sort of writer who plans things out ahead of time—perfectly OK, mind you; it’s just not how I work).
NB: Writers naturally improve and change over time and with each project. Since your first book in the Outlander Series, how has your writing evolved, and what has affected you most? Has constructive editing been important? Or has your growth as a writer been mostly internal?
DG: Nothing affects writing as much as the act of doing it, believe me. <grin> I’ve never had an editor tell me anything about the actual writing; such revisions as we do are almost entirely to do with the structure of the story (e.g., an editor feeling that someone’s motives weren’t entirely clear, or that such-and-such a situation might be misinterpreted by the less sophisticated sort of reader <cough>, or pointing out places (there are always a couple of them, owing to my individual way of fitting pieces together) where I’ve repeated a scene in two different locations, and asking where I actually want it—that sort of thing).
If you keep on writing, you grow older and you have more life experiences, and your critical mass of information increases and your perceptions deepen. Your writing will naturally reflect your personal growth, in terms of what you see and what’s important in your work.
NB: You were beloved and famous as an author long before the Starz Outlander Series. How has the increased hype over the past few years affected you?
DG: Well, now it takes me four years to write a book…
There’s just more of it—more fan involvement, more PR, more travel, more social media. I do have a physical involvement with the show itself, though (as opposed to hype): I’m a consultant to the show, which means, essentially, that they show me everything they do—script outlines, scripts, revisions, daily “roughs” while filming, and the edited episodes as they come together. I comment on whatever I usefully can, and while they don’t invariably do what I suggest <grin>, they generally do at least listen to me.
During the nine months (or so) while the show is filming, that means the show is getting one to two hours of my time, four or five days a week. And this is not counting the increased fan attention with concomitant growth on social media (but see below) or the absolute deluge of invitations (even turning them down politely takes work), or the intrusion of constant travel arrangements.
Anyway…social media. Social media kind of grew up around me; I stumbled into the Compuserve Literary Forum (and the wonderful world of “online”) back in 1985. As other innovations—like AOL <grin>—came along, I’d try them out, but I didn’t keep connections with anything that wasn’t immediately useful. Twitter and Facebook are useful, so I keep those accounts primed. I don’t do Instagram—there’s no real benefit to me in putting up photos (I do that on FB and Twitter when I have something worthwhile) and the need to do it every day would just be a burden. Instagram comments tend to be worthless, in terms of interest to other users, and lend themselves to stupidity and trolls, so why bother?
When the news of Sam Heughan’s casting as Jamie Fraser came out, all the Outlander-focused social media naturally exploded. In the midst of this, he emailed me and said, “Your fans are crazy. How do you deal with this?” So I told him—
Take ten minutes, once or twice a day, no more. During that time, read your Twitter-feed, as many messages as you can manage in that time. If someone says it’s their birthday, stop and tell them happy birthday; if someone says their dog died, stop and say you’re sorry. If someone says something witty to you AND you can instantly think of something witty in reply, say it. If someone says something negative to you, don’t touch it with a ten-foot pole.
Social media is a Good Thing/Tool for a writer, but it’s a bad master. You keep it under strict control, or it’ll eat you alive.
NB: Do you have a mission, a core driver that transcends all the work that you do—often described as ‘the one thing’ that gets you out of bed every morning? What is it and how does it sustain you?
DG: Nothing gets me out of bed in the morning (it’s NOT my time) except a vague sense that if I do go on sleeping, I’ll later regret it because there won’t be enough time to do what-all I want to.
I generally take the dog(s) out, and blearily scan Twitter while waiting for them, then come in, turn on the TV (news, if there’s anything other than The Tedious Usual happening, Outlander re-runs if not) and do my exercise (if I’ve got up early enough to have time for it before the first Thing of the day happens). That’s a mix of yoga, pilates and light weights, routines done according to whim, need and time available.
With luck, I’m actually conscious by the time I finish this and get dressed, and the momentum will usually get me through ‘til lunch (dog-walking, appointments, email, whatever…).
But overall, barring things like having to take children to school or the house being on fire, it’s pretty much always love.
I write spy thrillers. I invent devious characters and spin tales about terrible events and I have free reign because my books are, after all, fiction. But I also inject real places and actual events into the body of the story to add a sense of realism. And because readers expect accuracy with regard to anything that is real-life, I do my best to meet their expectations. I have traveled extensively and have visited most of the locations that I use in my novels, but those trips don’t always coincide exactly with the time frame of the story. The challenge, then, is to fill in the gaps between what was and what is. Research becomes the order of the day.
My latest novel has a backstory that takes place in the early to mid-nineties—in Bosnia-Herzegovina, a country that emerged from the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1990. A total of six (or seven, depending on who is counting) other countries surfaced out of the chaos, along ethnic and religious lines that exposed long-simmering hostilities.
I visited Sarajevo when the city hosted the Winter Olympics in 1984—when it was still in Yugoslavia. Shortly thereafter, I coached a few dozen young Yugoslav men and women who had been hired by Pan Am. Eight short years later, the entire region was at war and Sarajevo had become the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The city was also subjected to the longest siege in modern history, from 1992 to 1996. No food, no water, no medicine, no electricity, no fuel, no escape. Nearly 14,000 of its residents perished—over one-third of whom were civilians.
When I was in Sarajevo, it was a lovely and welcoming place; I enjoyed it immensely. I liked the people, especially—warm and embracing and kind. A decade later, nearly every building bore evidence of the mortars and rockets and sniper fire that had rained down on the city for four years. The scarring of the inhabitants, both physical and psychological, was even more disturbing. Families were decimated and men, women, and children maimed. They lived with terror for years and many still have a well-founded fear of open spaces. I was, and am still, saddened and horrified by the events that took place there. I think I knew, even back then, that I would write about it someday.
One of my characters is a Bosnian man who, after a particularly tragic experience, decides to flee Sarajevo and make his way to his family’s home in a town about fifty miles away. But how did people escape from the surrounded city? Not easily. The city lies in a slender river valley that runs generally east-west and is hemmed in by sharply steep hills to the north and south. Hostile Serbian forces occupied nearly all of the territory around Sarajevo, save for a narrow corridor at the southwest—just beyond the airport—which led to land occupied by Bosnian forces. To escape, one had to cross not only the runway but also the open grounds around the airport—at night, through an area laced with coils of barbed wire—and risk being caught in a sniper’s scope.
I was not enthusiastic about my character’s odds of making a successful escape via the airport crossing—too many real people had died while making the attempt. I considered having him wait it out until a peace agreement was reached. My storyline, however, demanded that he leave the city in 1993, and the Dayton Accords were not signed until late 1995. Time for Plan B. I had a vague recollection of hearing about a tunnel, so I dug in (pun fully intended) to learn more about it. In early 1993, the Bosnians had dug—by hand—a half-mile tunnel to bring supplies into the city. The northern entrance was in the garage of an apartment building, in a neighborhood on the southwest side of the city. From there, the tunnel ran generally south, dropping beneath the runway, and extending to the cellar of a private home to the south of the airport, with Bosnian-held land just beyond. It was a remarkable feat, a perfect display of human resilience and ingenuity.
The owner of the house has since restored part of the original tunnel and today the family runs their own private museum. It has become one of the most popular tourist spots in the city. I needed to learn everything that I could, so, in addition to all of the technical research, I visited travel blogs and other travel-oriented sites and looked at hundreds of photos. As I explored, however, I kept running across references to the private dwelling that hid the north end of the tunnel. I was thoroughly confused. I checked and double-checked. All of the published maps clearly showed the names of the neighborhoods where the entrances were located (Dobrinja to the north, Butmir to the south), that the airport was to the southwest of the city, and that the house and its museum were south of the airport—not north. What on earth was going on? How could so many people have misstated the location? Was I just going crazy?
And then, light bulb! The museum’s collection of artifacts includes a map, designed to provide a visual explanation of how the city was surrounded, and to show the entry points and route of the tunnel. It is a pretty map, a photogenic map—a map that thousands of people have captured on their smartphones and posted and shared on the web. It is also a map with which the artist took a small liberty—by inverting it. The museum map shows the mountains and the Bosnian-held territory to the northeast, along with the airport. With the mountains at the top and the valley at the bottom, it is probably a more aesthetically pleasing composition. Or perhaps the artist was just gazing out at the snow-covered peaks while creating the picture. Regardless, thousands of people automatically associated the map’s top with North and its bottom with South. Thus, if you were using it as a real map, it would only work well if you looked at it while standing on your head.
Whew! I was relieved to know that I had not yet lost all of my marbles. Instead, I had encountered a classic example of how misinformation spreads on the web. It was not malevolent, nor intentional, but it certainly had legs! As a longtime consumer of web content, I have learned which sites to generally (note the disclaimer) trust when I am seeking factual information. But even if one employs the journalist’s technique of verification from multiple sources, one can still be led astray or led to question established fact. While the internet is a glorious place to find information, at your fingertips, in an instant, it can also be a perilous place to wade, with sharks of every description homing in as you splash in the surf.Make sure that you have your wits about you, that you know which way is north, and that your map is pointed in the right direction! Click To Tweet
The moral of the story is that, if you are conducting research on the internet, be careful about accepting statements at face value. Check your facts, explore multiple reputable sources, use your common sense, and throw in a healthy dose of skepticism. And for all of you digital-map explorers out there, beware! Before setting off on a journey to an unfamiliar place, providing directions to lost travelers, or planning a military invasion, make sure that you have your wits about you, that you know which way is north, and that your map is pointed in the right direction!
~~ LM Reynolds